Myanmar cuisine has found a home in cities like Bloomington, Fort Wayne, and Indianapolis
A typical aisle at one of Fort Wayne’s Burmese grocery stores — Photo courtesy of Brian Cicioni
Indiana may seem like an unusual place to find so many Burmese restaurants and grocery stores, but the south side of Indianapolis and Fort Wayne have some of the country’s highest concentrations of people born in what is now Myanmar. This is so much the case that on South Indy roads, like Madison Avenue and Route 31, it can seem like every other business sign is written in the unique Burmese alphabet.
What is typical Burmese food?
Some may say Burmese food is similar to Thai or to Indian, but to compare Burmese food to that in other country’s is to miss the point! Modern-day Myanmar, the largest country in mainland Southeast Asia, boasts a cuisine uniquely its own — with inevitable influences from its five neighbors: Thailand, India, Bangladesh, China, and Laos.
Laphet thoke, or tea leaf salad — Photo courtesy of Brian Cicioni
There’s the national dish of mohinga, a fish-based rice noodle soup with herbs and onions. Laphet thoke, or tea leaf salad, is so popular you can find a premade mix in most Burmese grocery stores.
With a plethora of Burmese restaurants in Indiana, here are 10 must-try places where you can get to know traditional Burmese cuisine, Myanmar food, and regional Chin dishes.
Tamarind fish at Burma Garden — Photo courtesy of Brian Cicioni
Burma Garden, Bloomington’s only Burmese food spot, is conveniently located near downtown hotels like Graduate Bloomington and other local attractions. That’s the exception, as South Indy and Fort Wayne’s Burmese restaurants tend to be located in strip malls on the outskirts. You can expect to see many students and well-traveled adults of all ages at Burma Garden and at neighboring Little Tibet Restaurant.
The popular tamarind fish is served without the bone. Mandalay fritters are a popular street food served on a boat-shaped plate. They are chewy on the inside with a mild hint of ginger. Bonus: Burma Garden is also a convenient place to buy tea leaf salad mix.
Burmese Restaurant’s traditional arts and crafts, whose proceeds support family back home — Photo courtesy of Brian Cicioni
Burmese Restaurant in Indianapolis is a good place to try first, as the menu items are all shown in large pictures. Like many of the Myanmar food spots in South Indy, the owners here come from Chin State. Look at the great hornbill bird painting on the wall. That’s the official bird of Chin State.
Most will come here for the Burmese dishes, including the many dry noodle bowls and soups. Of the latter, the kyar san stands out. It’s not the most popular, but the ingredients are all ones most have heard of, and even the fish sauce isn’t overwhelming. Their version includes dried white mushrooms, chicken, tofu skin, and glass noodles.
You also can buy traditional Chin dress for as little as $10. The money goes back to Chin State to help put children through school.
Noodle soup at Chin Brothers — Photo courtesy of Brian Cicioni
Chin Brothers claims to be the first adjacent Burmese restaurant and Southeast Asian grocery store in South Indy. The chef is from Yangon, formerly Rangoon. Chin is a nod to the owner, Than Hre, and his wife’s home state.
Chin Brothers’ menu has more than 60 items, including Chin dishes like sabuti. The word is an amalgamation of sa (meat) and buti (corn broth). The meat varies from place to place. At Chin Brothers, it’s usually cow innards. Burmese blood sausage is another dish for the more adventurous. Sabuti would be the best true Chin experience, but most of the menu will span the entire Myanmar food spectrum.
Imbi’s laphet tamin — Photo courtesy of Brian Cicioni
Like most of South Indy’s Burmese restaurants, Imbi is very basic inside. The Chin owners arrived in the United States via Malaysia, so you’ll see some overlap on the menu. Sticking to Burmese food, laphet tamin is a fried rice dish with fermented tea leaves (laphet), anchovy, fried lentils, and cucumber slices and topped with a fried egg. For a more common (and lighter) dish, try the laphet thoke, or tea leaf salad.
Kimu’s goat curry — Photo courtesy of Brian Cicioni
Kimu is another Chin-owned Burmese restaurant in Indiana, but this one is located south of Indianapolis in Greenwood. Inside, the hanging green umbrellas match the green tablecloth. The name Kimu comes from a mountain in Chin State, of which you’ll see a picture hanging above the Chin memorabilia table.
The popular Kimu special soup looks like a Burmese version of pho. Their simmered goat curry is super tender and served on the bone. For a colorful dessert, try shwe yin aye, which has white (coconut flavor) and green (pandan flavor) jelly, tapioca balls, and torn-off pieces of sliced white bread soaking in a bowl of coconut milk.
Falooda at Mahnin — Photo courtesy of Brian Cicioni
“Chindianapolis” might be the Burmese food capital of the United States, but Fort Wayne has enough restaurants to keep you well-fed over a long weekend — and even more Southeast Asian grocery stores. Mahnin is owned and operated by a Muslim family, so all meat is halal.
Skip the Thai dishes and try Myanmar food, like Burmese fried noodles, which are sometimes referred to as night market noodles. The coconut chicken noodle soup is second in popularity only to mohinga, and Mahnin is an ideal place to try it. It comes topped with a generous portion of cilantro.
Whether you order it as a dessert or a drink with your meal, the super-sweet and slightly salty falooda is a must-try.
Burmese-style noodles at MiMi’s — Photo courtesy of Brian Cicioni
Owner and namesake, Mimi, is from Chin State, but some of the kitchen staff come from Malaysia. That explains the Petronas Towers model at the entrance of this Indianapolis Burmese restaurant, as well as the variety of Southeast Asian food on the bright-colored menu, replete with pictures of each item.
Of all the menu items, Shan noodles are a good place to start. They appear on the menu as Burmese-style noodles and are a nod to Shan State. This rice noodle dish has a lot of garlic and is served with a side of kimchi. The chicken broth also comes on the side, so you can use it all or just a little bit to make it less of a soup. The Chin State staple, sabuti, is served with a thick jerky-like side of fried beef.
For dessert, try the moh let sawng, which Mimi refers to as “Burmese chocolate.” If falooda is red or pink, moh let sawng has green and black starches and comes with ice, but you can request it without. While not as exciting as falooda or shwe yin aye, it’s something to try that you can’t find at most other Burmese restaurants.
Burmese stuffed tofu at Nawarat — Photo courtesy of Brian Cicioni
This is another of Fort Wayne’s halal Burmese restaurants. Nawarat is one of the few places where you can try Burmese cuisine for breakfast, as it opens at 7:30 a.m. Fried bread and Burmese rice are the two go-to options before noon. Otherwise, the stuffed tofu here is a hit.
The tofu is crispy on the outside, while the middle is stuffed with fried garlic and crushed peanut. As tofu lacks much natural flavor, you can really taste the fish sauce. Another popular items is the nan gyi thoke chicken noodle salad, which is udon-noodle based with a side of chicken broth.
Burmese noodles at Nine House — Photo courtesy of Brian Cicioni
Nine House is more of a takeout place with a limited menu, but what they do, they do really well. And that starts with the Burmese noodles, which are the top seller. The chilis that permeate this noodle dish are visible even from a distance. Nine House is also a great place to try the chicken potato curry, which is the color of turmeric (one of the main ingredients).
Nine House also offers sushi. That should come as no surprise, as many Burmese own and operate sushi bars for chains like Wegman’s and The Fresh Market. Check the Nine House Facebook page for daily specials and local market appearances.
Mohinga, sabuti, and other Burmese staples at Yangon — Photo courtesy of Brian Cicioni
The owners of Yangon are a couple from Chin State and Rangoon. She does the cooking, and he runs the front of the house. Sabuti, a Chin staple, is highly recommended. You should also try the mohinga here, Myanmar’s national dish. At Yangon, the condiments are served on the side, as you would get with pho at a Vietnamese restaurant.